Navigating Anticipatory Grief.
Written By Megan McCorkle, LVT
Anticipatory grief is when we are fearful of losing something we love in our life. It can be common for pet parents to experience fear of losing their pets and we call this anticipatory grief. Some people may not understand the different forms of grief you can experience. In this blog, we discuss what anticipatory grief over losing a pet can look like.
Anticipatory Grief over Losing a Pet is Normal
Did you know that as humans, anticipation is a natural process? If we know something is inevitable, we might anticipate it before it happens. We also know that grief will affect every person in a different way. This can even differ between a couple who own one pet.
I will share my own personal experience with a process we term “anticipatory grief”.
When Your Pet Gets a Tough Diagnosis
Anticipatory grief can happen with any age dog at any time but I really started feeling it when our happy-go-lucky pomeranian, Bacardi was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. He is 11 years old and a silly and loved personality in our home that has always brought me joy. He is best friends with our daughter.
After this diagnosis, we are now in a stage of preparing for his inevitable departure from our lives.
Bacardi has had a form of kidney disease for about 2 years now and we have been able to slow down its progression with medical management. Now, his kidney disease is at a point where it is progressing despite our efforts. We are closely monitoring his kidney values along with his daily quality of life until his kidneys can no longer support a happy, quality of life.
My partner sees pet loss grief differently than me.
It can be normal for partners and even family to not understand anticipatory grief you may feel with a pet as I know this is the case for me. I am a veterinary professional and have already lost one soul dog. My perspective is vastly different from my husband who has never had a soul dog, nor does he work in the profession.
I'll share his perspective first here because it is short and sweet…. though no less emotional.
He believes that pets come and go and does not harbor particularly deep affection for pets. He understands the process and he will be sad when the time comes but is not going to let it upset his current mindset. He is willing to do all that we can to keep him comfortable but does not want to go above extreme measures.
Being an animal lover my whole life and a veterinary professional, I want to do as much as I can for the furry members of our family. I have been the one making the vet trips, getting the lab samples, reviewing, and tweaking his medications with the veterinarian. For the first 2 years, we did well at keeping his numbers stable.
Now we are seeing some changes in his lab work that could indicate worsening disease. I have begun to anticipate the grief I will have when he is gone. I have been more apt to give in and let him sleep on the bed- and other small things that mean the world to him. I have carried a heavy heart and mind about knowing when to make the call and let him go. I have been preparing myself for his departure. Some days it consumes me and others I see him looking fine and so I feel more at ease.
What to do if You're Experiencing Anticipatory Grief
I know many pet parents who have shared both perspectives with their own pets as I have had the honor of assisting humane euthanasias in my career. The pain and heartbreak are real even if it starts before as we anticipate or after in our realization that they are indeed gone.
Please know that you are not alone in these moments, please reach out and talk to your veterinary staff about your concerns before, during, and after these emotional times. We too experience these emotions.
Here are some things that can help when you're experiencing anticipatory grief:
Be present with your pet in each moment that you can
Watch for signs of distress or unaided discomfort
Watch for signs that their quality of life has changed.
Stay in touch with your veterinarian to help guide you when the final choice comes.
Resources for Anticipatory Grief or Pet Loss Grief
Anticipatory grief needs to be handled delicately as you transition to your final goodbye with your beloved pet. Allow yourself to feel and express yourself the way you need to and reach out if you need help.
One amazing resource for those looking for support around this is the Pet Loss Community which was created by two veterinarians and a clinical psychologist. They have group support done over zoom and even private support you can set up if you are struggling and can be found here: www.petlosscommunity.com